Plynx's Beginner's Guide
Thinking about a game is a lot easier if you have some fundamental unit on which to base your thoughts. A typical starting point for Spectromancer players is thinking in terms of mana as the fundamental unit of the game. From here, a new player will seek to maximize mana efficiency, that is to try to obtain the greatest effects for the least amount of mana expended. For example, they might think, "I have used Tornado on a Hydra, that's +2 mana for me", or "I have stone rained on things worth 12 mana, having only spent 9 mana, that's +3 mana for me." There are other ways players think about mana as a resource as well.
In this section, I want to call this approach into question and propose an alternative fundamental unit.
Here is a histogram of the game length of my own Spectromancer games since returning to play earlier this year. Having recorded almost all of the replays, I analyzed my recordings to get the average length of my Spectromancer games in turns.
The average game length was 24 turns. Considering that I am only taking half of those turns, that means that on average, my games afford me 12 moves. That's enough time to gather about 60-70 mana over and above the starting mana.
Now let's consider what happens when a game ends. The person losing always has some mana left over, and the person winning does too. It would be cool to go through my games and collect all the ending mana stats to show you on a chart, but unfortunately, I don't have the time. I can tell you though, that almost all the time, the losing player died with more mana than the winning player, with usually around 30 or so mana still in their pool. The higher the level of the player, the less mana they had in their pool when they died. I took some random samples and GrimJoker and Jeronimo average about 20, and Sealeta averaged about 23. [Disclaimer: I am not saying that ending with a low mana total is an inherent good and something to strive for. For example, if you are killing someone with 3 elementals on board, your mana totals might be absurdly high, and that's ok.] If you have time, think about this yourself in the future and try to get a picture of how much mana you win or lose with.
Now from the above, I would love to spend time gathering the actual data, but there is a strong correlation with having spent more mana than your opponent and winning, [Disclaimer: correlation does not imply causation].
Let me explain what the data is hinting at. Spectromancer is not a game where it is terribly hard to acquire and store mana. But spending that mana is actually something somewhat hard.
So let's do some simple calculations about mana: 70 mana gain, and about 20 starting mana, is about 90 mana, minus 30 that often goes unused is about 60 mana. About 1/3rd of the mana pool goes unused in a typical game. Now compare this to the considerations at the start, about being +2 mana here or +3 mana there from a move and consider how much impact these really have. In the last section, I showed a board with two large gaps in the houses. Getting +n mana to a house with a large gap in it may as well be 0 mana if you never reach the threshold for spending mana in that house. You can never spend more than 12 mana at a time. Finding a way to spend 10 more of your overall mana so that you finish with 20 instead of 30 mana is one of the most effective things you can do regarding mana.
Essentially, viewing mana as a fluid resource, a currency of advantage, is rife with problems. It's not a liquid asset. So what would give us a better view of relative advantage?
Every turn in Spectromancer you actually get four things:
- 5 mana
- effects from your board
- the ability to play a card
- an attack
... in that order.
From this, we're going to construct a baseline for what you can expect over a typical turn in Spectromancer.
At the low end of this is spending mana to no effect with nothing on the board (Earth 6 for example). But this is actually hard to do, so let's pick something else instead. A pass with nothing on the board provides no effects other than the gain of mana. On the high end, you can spend up to 12 mana for a large effect (with scaling cards like armageddon or lightning bolt, theoretically unlimited), while getting a large attack and many board effects. But, our average turn in an average game is going to be to produce 5 mana worth of effect. In an idealized world, we have put a generic 5-mana cost creature on the board, and so does our opponent. In Spectromancer, of course, you can't actually do this because you can't spend mana as you likeâit can challenging to keep up with this average over n turns.
In a later section, I'll show how we can estimate the center point of the game balance, the importance of the number 6 for the number of slots provided, and exactly why 5 mana, 5 turns, 5 houses, are so central to the game, and how summoning sickness leaves us with 20 life as a one-turn breakpoint.
But for now, consider that in one turn you expect yourself to do something that is going to amount to 20 life difference between you and your opponent (like hitting them for 20 damage), and to keep that pace up turn after turn. 20 damage might seem like a lot, but it's not. If I lay down a generic 5 mana creature, and my opponent passes, and only then begins blocking my creatures for the next 4 turns, they will have taken about 20 damage from that passed turn, only in slow motion. 20 is also the crossover point at which you might consider targeting your opponent with spell damage rather than playing a creature in the midgame, or when you can usually play rejuvenation without falling behind at the same time.
Because turns are the most limiting feature of the game, and you get so few of them on average, an important measure of your advantage is how well those limited turns are employed in discharging this imaginary duty. To do that, you need to measure the difference between the turn you are making (or the turn your opponent just made) and the average expected turn. If you play a fire 1, for example, you know you are playing below the average turn. You are banking 4 mana relative to the 5 you were expected to spend, all in other houses, whichâplease remember, is not fluid and will require at least 4 later turns to "withdraw"âa very important consideration in a 12-move game. In exchange you get a creature which is going to punch in 12-16 damage to the opponent and 0-20 damage to your side of the board. Assuming we mitigate the downside, it's a pretty high throughput turn that advantages us later with even more high throughput turns if and only if we can take advantage of the mana cost savings within the remaining turns of the game. It's about 3/5 of a turn if played smartly.
On the other hand, take a hydra played on a full board, with more than a few turns left in the game, might punch in 120 damage to the opponent and board, while costing us 12 mana (2.4 turns of mana). So a hydra play under near optimal circumstances is about 2.5 turns of advantage.
Spells can be analyzed the same way. For a spell to be worth it, it might net 20 damage, or prevent 20 damage, or remove and nullify at least one full turn of play from the opponent either directly (e.g. tornado on an earth elemental) or indirectly (chain lightning killing 4 creatures that have already discharged 3/4 of their duties). If the spell costs more than 5 mana, you are spending more than this turn's worth of income, therefore either you need to make this up through increased return from your move, synergies, or you don't care because you don't anticipate being able to replenish that house. There are many times when current throughput matters a lot more than future throughput.
What about spells like Meditation? Since this spell nets you an additional 2 mana only, the temporal throughput is very low. But there are many times when meditating is the key to unlocking massive later throughput, due to alignment or boosting key moves into range sooner, or to prevent the opponent from attaining unreasonable throughput through pinning spells.
The nature of the game is that moves you make earlier in time roll forward in time with inertia. The earlier a strong play is made, the greater the likelihood that an opponent will not stop it before that goes super-temporal, living beyond ordinary expectations. In that case, you may want to adjust your temporal advantage estimates whenever you expect that to happen.
Hearkening back to the breakpoint of 20 life, you can use this to estimate your temporal leeway. Another way of looking at your starting life total is: 3 turns. From this you need to assess where you are from the start of the game (sadly, you can start as much as 3.5 turns behind your opponent), and then you will know how much leeway you have to withdraw time from your life to attempt a larger payoff. Just don't be deceivedâon average, meditation may as well read, gain +1 mana in 3 houses and lose 20 life. The turns a low throughput move enables later have to be exceptional to make up for the immediate throughput loss. Always remember that it does not matter how awesome your dragon/chain lightning/natural fury plan is if you withdrew 60 life from your temporal bank to get there. Also, your temporal throughput is a moving averageâmaking an amazing play that seemingly provides a lot of advantage in one turn may not make up for the turns before and after it. Weak play, weak play, weak play, AWESOME PLAY!!!!1 does not beat solid play, solid play, solid play, solid play.
There is no mathematical formula for temporal advantage, but there are some rules of thumb and applying this concept is something that takes practice and insight. Getting a rough estimate of being a turn or two ahead or behind your opponent, in combination with some insight into the expected length of the game you are playing, is a major benefit to your planning. Keeping a running estimate as you play is easy on your brain once you get the hang of it. It can help with letting you know when you might want to start looking for a way to win (you estimate being turns ahead > turns left in enemy life) or when your back is to the wall even though it doesn't seem like it.
Oh, one more thing that's very important that I forgot to mention. Bear in mind that a turn has many parts. The exact ratio of the value of those parts is something that varies game by game, but they are all "the turn". Stopping someone from playing their card does not deny them one full turn. It only denies them the part where they can play a card. They still get mana, they still get board effects, and they still get the attack. Similarly, gaining the ability to play an extra card, stopping your opponent's attack (Sonic Boom), blocking their mana, denying their board effects, and so forth all amount to only a fractional turn's worth of advantage. It's often the case that one player shuts down another player's mana, for example, but the other player shuts down the ability to play cards, leading to about an equivalent advantage.
Since this takes practice, you may not get immediate results, but in time you will be rewarded (no pun intended).
Modified by Plynx on 2015-02-08 11:25:21
Yeah..."Time"'s section.. here's what I mean when I say that time class and control class are the two strongest classes in the game.
Control class can manipulate game length,unused mana,time,temporal duty and leeway.
But, our average turn in an average game is going to be to produce 5 mana worth of effect.
Control2 = 0 mana for opponent = +3 total mana for us.
Control3 destroys tempo's plan of the opponent creating useless turns for the opponents and probably waste of the mana.
Control5 = 0 mana for opponent and big effects on the board = +3 mana for us and the possibility of a combo spell to dominate the board, then an other possibility with Control1 to protect the board.
Control6= -5 mana for opponent = + 4 total mana for us but a +8 mana in the classic houses. Simply amazing card, it's important to see at the start of a game what cards the witch can stop adding tot mana equal to remaining mana to have it.
Every turn in Spectromancer you actually get four things:
- 5 mana
- effects from your board
- the ability to play a card
- an attack
Control8 = no possibility to play a card for the opponent = possibility to play two cards having surely board effects.
You can never spend more than 12 mana at a time.
Time 5 + Fire 9(8) = 13 mana in 1 turn and -1 mana spells cost.
Time 8 + Earth 12 = 20 mana in 1 turn.
Time4 = no possibility to play a card for the opponent = possibility to play two cards having surely board effects plus damages spell.
Double Time4 = .....having surely double board effects plus double damages spell = god mode.
Modified by GrimJ0ker on 2015-02-08 19:19:20
Very interesting, but now i have no time to deep-think about that.
What i learn with a speed read is about a good use of mana for have the lowest possible at end.(considering damage output/avarange turn game)
Because more mana spent compared to opponent->more % to win.
p.s:beat a lv 40 player using those explanation.Sure, it was just a game(which mean almost nothing) still proud about it :). Ty Plynx
Great article, Plynx! I've read it through twice now, picking up on things I missed the first time - I'll probably have to read it about a dozen times before I fully grasp is all!
It's a very good write-up on the concept of time & the value of the turn - in its parts & the sum. There has always been a great deal of talk here in the forum about the value of the turn as a resource, but I think this is the first actual article to really delve into the subject in full analysis (if I'm not mistaken - perhaps Forestry wrote something about it that I missed?). This is a very helpful perspective on time. The sections on Temporal Duty & Temporal Leeway were very interesting. Thanks!